Chinese Democracy

Guns N' Roses

Geffen, 2008

REVIEW BY: Jeff Clutterbuck


Where does one begin trying to encapsulate the legend that is/was Chinese Democracy? The butt of jokes for a decade and a half, the mysterious pet project of  the lone remaining member of Guns N’ Roses, the SMiLE for Generation X -- Chinese Democracy was all of these things, save for one crucial component: it was never completed.

Yet now, in 2008, the world finally has the opportunity to view the vision Axl Rose has been pursuing for years. Millions of dollars, and one can only assume thousands of hours, have been invested in the eventual release of this record, a Herculean feat by any other name. Such an effort carries with it the unfortunate, expected mantle of greatness. Truly the most shocking aspect of Chinese Democracy is that it reaches those heights on several occasions and for the most part realizes its oft-debated destiny.

The evolution of Guns N’ Roses, from Appetite Of Destruction to the Use Your Illusion dual releases saw a band that was driven by its lead singer and dominant personality towards music that expanded in scope from classics such as “Welcome To The Jungle.” The stylistic jump between Use Your Illusion and Chinese Democracy is nowhere near as startling or radical as the bands earlier demonstrations of growth, but instead finds Axl Rose attempting to hone his craft and cement the foundations that were laid during the my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Use Your Illusion days.

In that sense, the record is a massive success. The album sheds skin after skin with little effort, held together by Rose’s megalomaniacal desire for perfection. Upon a first listen, the sudden and quick changes in style are dizzying, but with further reflection, one can begin to appreciate what each song brings to the overall picture. There are traces of what some would call the vintage Guns N’ Roses sound (“Chinese Democracy,” “Riad N' The Bedouins”) but for the most part, Rose and Co. seek to think outside of the box.

Rose has always worn his influences on his sleeve, and the situation is no different in this instance. He reveals his inner balladeer multiple times, going so far as to modernize Blue Moves-era Elton John (“This I Love”) and perform his own version of a John Steinman standard (“Street Of Dreams”). Outside artists, among them Sebastian Bach (“Sorry”), contribute in multiple ways, even if their material was eventually cut from the album (“Catcher In The Rye” retains the Queen influence, even though Brian May’s work was left in the dustbin).

While Rose is the unquestioned leader/visionary of the current incarnation of GNR, he is not the true star of Chinese Democracy. That honor falls to the avant-garde guitarist Buckethead. My long standing complaint about Buckethead was that his skills were being wasted, as he released solo album after solo album of material that pleased his fans to no end, but never enlightened a wider audience on his amazing skills. On Chinese Democracy his playing is magnetic. He unleashes a devastating array of riffs and solos that are thoroughly modern, with a hint of classicism to them. His work during “There Was A Time” is one of the finest musical moments of this decade, drawing comparisons to the legendary solos of “Comfortably Numb” or “Stairway to Heaven.”

It is incredibly difficult to separate the album from the legend. As one listens to Chinese Democracy unfold, the motivations of Axl Rose come under question -- what was so special about one take as opposed to another? Such questions come after multiple listens, but one must also attempt to silence the doubts.  Throughout Chinese Democracy, Rose lashes out against those who doubted, those who said it could not be done, in acidic fashion on occasion. Yet what has been given to the masses is one album, fourteen takes of songs, no more no less. There is little benefit in attempting to peer into the past. Chinese Democracy is here right now, finally.

Rating: A-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


Glad to see someone decided to review based on what it is not what it isn't. It doesn't sound like GNR because it's a different band, obviously.

© 2008 Jeff Clutterbuck and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Geffen, and is used for informational purposes only.